Tag Archives: ministry

Would you go?

If I’m completely honest with myself, I have two expectations:

  1. God desires me to be “successful” in my service to Him.
  2. If I obey His leading, He will make me wildly “successful” in my ministry.

As Americans, it would be unthinkable for us to say something like, “God has called me to a small, obscure ministry that will never bear much fruit; instead, I’ll actually pour my life into just a few guys and then one or two of them will have ministries that far exceed anything I ever could have accomplished.” Of course, if you really think about it, isn’t that what Christ did? Didn’t He just focus on 12 men who took His message much farther than He ever did? Interesting… but I digress, back to my two expectations.

It’s easy for us to think that God will be so amazed by our passionate devotion that He’ll have no choice but to make us the main catalyst for the next Great Awakening! But as I’ve been reading through the Prophets, I see something a little different happening. To understand what I mean, take a look at the “commissioning” of some of the prophets.

Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 6:8-12)

Do you see what just happened? Isaiah answered God’s call and God told him to go preach to a people that would absolutely refuse to listen. Isaiah asked how long he is supposed to do this, and God tells him to keep preaching until the entire land is a desolate waste! That hardly sounds like the modern promise that God has a wonderful plan for your life. Let’s look at how cheerful Jeremiah’s commissioning is, I’ll just underline the parts that I want to emphasize.

The Call of Jeremiah

14 Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. 16And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. 17 But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18 And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, forI am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:14-19)

We see the same thing: Jeremiah is sent to fail. God doesn’t say something like, “Go to my people and save them from disaster.” Instead, he says “My people will be destroyed and I want you to spend your days calling them to repent. They’ll never do it, but that’s not your responsibility.” The same thing happens with Ezekiel.

Ezekiel’s Call

4 And [God] said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ezekiel 3:4-7)

God tells Ezekial, “Although I could send you to a foreign nation, and although they would listen to you and worship me, I’ve called you to the house of Israel. They will reject you.” And don’t forget what God tells Hosea: “Marry a prostitute so she can cheat on you and have other men’s children. I will use this as an example to show Israel how they have cheated on me” (Hosea 1:2).

Do you see what’s wrong with my original two expectations? They’re completely wrong! If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that those two expectations are really just a spiritual-sounding twist on the American dream. So here’s the question that is haunting me (and I want to share with you so you’ll be haunted too): If you knew that God was not calling you to a successful ministry would you still go? The thing is, if I’m honest, I’ve created a formula that goes something like this:

God’s calling + my obedience = ministry success

But the truth is, as we’ve seen, God doesn’t call anyone to be successful, He doesn’t owe anyone success, nor does He promise anyone success. God calls us to faithful obedience, no matter what. We aren’t called to success, we’re called to obedience. I pray that God will give me the courage to obey Him unconditionally. So here’s my question for you: Would you go?

Lesson One: Spiritual Gifts

Once upon a time and for only about 8 long weeks, I was training to be a combat controller (I was medically disqualified because of my eyesight, but now I see God’s hand in that). Becoming a combat controller demands that all candidates be in world-class physical condition and one of the big philosophies ingrained in me early on is that you must focus on your weaknesses. If you’re a really great runner but you’re horrible at push-ups, then you need to double your training-efforts to get better at push-ups. If you can knock out pull-ups with no problem but you sink like a rock in the pool, then you need to spend extra time developing your form. It made a lot of sense, because all combat controllers need to be pretty evenly rounded when they’re out on missions.

Somehow, this mentality stuck with me for the rest of my military career and, even worse, as a Christian. While there is some merit to this approach, I think it’s significantly short-sighted when it comes to our spiritual gifts. This is the first lesson God has taught me in seminary. According to 1 Cor 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (Another translation I just learned about, the J.B. Phillips New Testament, puts it like this: “Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it.”) Later on, Paul develops this thought a little more specifically by saying that we’ve each been given very specific gifts for very specific reasons and that no one is a miniature body with all the gifts (1 Cor 12:18-20). This diversity is meant to cause unity and interdependence in the Church.

Coming into seminary, I thought “I feel like God has given me a gift and a calling to teach, so I need to supplement that with classes about pastoring and shepherding.” I had imported the combat control mentality that I needed to be “balanced” or “well-rounded” into my calling. This really doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Paul agreed in 1 Cor 12:17 when he points out how ridiculous it would be for every member of the church to try to have the same spiritual gifts.

I’ve realized that, instead of trying to compensate for areas where God has not gifted me, I should be focusing on the areas where God has gifted me. Instead of trying to be a flashlight and shine over a wide area, I should be like a laser and focus on the central area where God has gifted me. In Maximizing Your Effectiveness: How to Discover and Develop Your Divine Design, Aubrey Malphurs says about spiritual gifts:

“God has sovereignly made us just the way we are–God is the Architect, the Master Designer, the Potter. Whether you are an ear or an eye, 1 Corinthians 12:18 teaches, “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Therefore, there is no need to be upset with our place or function in the body of Christ. Instead, there is much satisfaction in knowing we are ministering in accordance with God’s design and purpose for our lives. The key is discovering which body part you are, then functioning according to that design.”

So, the first big lesson that God has taught me is that it’s time to embrace the gifts He’s given me and realize that others in the Body will be able to minister in areas where I’m not gifted. This season of my life is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness my spiritual gifts in preparation for full-time ministry. It would be foolish and wasteful of me to try to become the spiritual equivalent of a Swiss-army Knife when God has gifted me to be something far more specific and useful. I encourage you to pray for wisdom and discernment and ask God to reveal the gifts He’s given you; then serve in those areas mightily for God’s glory and your joy.